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Nightmares on Wax, Stars on 45
September 12, 2012 3:35 AM   Subscribe

The music industry is moving rapidly into the digital world whether it likes it or not, and vinyl just might be the last thing standing in the way of a world where nobody bothers to buy physical music anymore. So did labels sabotage vinyl on purpose? Of course, the death of the CD has been touted before. Trends indicate, vinyl does seem to be making a comeback, but is a a word where you don't own your digital music (or do you?) enough to save the once-popular format?

What is a Vinyl Record?
posted by Mezentian (140 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I always liked the idea that early records required 33⅓. At least it forced people to learn fractions.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:39 AM on September 12, 2012


It rocks my retro heart to see a couple of kids leaving the record store with their arms filled with vinyl records. Best played through valve amplification.
posted by caddis at 3:43 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The biggest reason to buy vinyl is because they simply can't play most of the 'loudness wars' tricks with a vinyl record; if they try to do the same shit they do on a CD, the needle will jump right out of the groove. So they HAVE to give you a reasonable mix, typically engineered to the old, pre-loudness-war standards.

But vinyl is absolutely inferior in every way. It's a lousy medium. You end up with a poor quality reproduction of a mix that's typically at least competent, and often outstanding. With CDs, you get an essentially perfect reproduction of, so often, a lousy mix. We can tune out noise, so the better mix on vinyl can offer a substantially better experience.

The ideal solution, of course, would be to get a quality mix on CD, which will beat the shit out of any vinyl record, anywhere. Vinyl is terrible. But the damn engineers won't keep their hands off the volume knobs when they go digital. If they'd just do their damn jobs properly, there'd be no need for a renaissance.
posted by Malor at 3:46 AM on September 12, 2012 [25 favorites]


Cassettes are making a comeback on the indie-rock circuit. Half the merch stands at this year's Indietracks were selling them.

I still regret being convinced to part with my home-recorded tapes as part of a decluttering exercise. Not that I have anything to play them on.
posted by mippy at 3:48 AM on September 12, 2012


I do so love the crackle of an old vinyl record.
It makes even futuristic stuff like Gary Numan sound... perfect.

But cassettes? I loved tapes for what they could do (remember when mixed tapes were not only revolutionary, but signals of love or communication otherwise?), but the medium otherwise sucked.

And I say this as a person who has at least three tape players in reserve.
posted by Mezentian at 3:51 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


You had 45's and 78's and other numbers. But the 90's never took off as a recording format, since 90 degree angles are not conducive to vinyl playback, because they give you a bunch of squares trying to make music. Which actually describes the music of the 80's.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:52 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


What I've seen some people doing is, on the very first play of a new record, digitally recording it with a really good analog in. They still have the noise floor of a record that way, but they can listen as much as they want, on any device they want, without wearing out the grooves. It's sort of a hybrid between the two domains. It's ridiculous that they need to do this, but it is a clever solution.
posted by Malor at 3:56 AM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


If I may dissent, it was the introduction of seedless marijuana that put the nail in the coffin of the LP. Vinyl album covers, especially fold-over double LP covers were sine qua non for potheads when every lid of reefer contained a nickle bag full of seeds.
posted by three blind mice at 3:59 AM on September 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


I don't get this whole fascination with vinyl. Sure, it was the format we old people grew up with, but why can't we let it go?

Suppose it was latex. Yeah, suppose we had precious memories of the latex of our youth. Perverts.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:22 AM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like vinyl because.... sure, it's cumbersome and awkward, but it made you work to appreciate music, the whole album.
And, most of the best music ever made was recorded to vinyl.

And, on vinyl you could do this.
posted by Mezentian at 4:32 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I dislike vinyl for two reasons. First, because it's a pain to keep safe and clean compared to other formats. Second, because I'm sick of hearing how great the sound quality is from people who are more in love with the unnecessary noises and pops and hisses introduced by the medium than they are by the music.

(Also there's a part of me that wants to respond to romanticism by punching faces.)
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:39 AM on September 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


I don't get this whole fascination with vinyl. Sure, it was the format we old people grew up with, but why can't we let it go?

Good question. Part of it, I think, has to do with ceremony and our attachment to music. Vinyl demanded a certain physical connection to the format, from flipping-through the record bins, to placing the record on the platter, perhaps cleaning the record with your beloved Discwasher, placing the needle on the record, sitting down and consciously listening to every song in order, then flipping the record over and doing the cleaning and needle-placing again, sitting and listening. A vinyl record was a bit of an event and made an impression on a person.

CD's heralded an era where music became less a part of your life and more disposable and transient. While still a physical object, it's an object that demanded no care and invited one to ignore it. Flipping through a CD rack was nowhere near the adventure flipping through a redord bin was. The pictures were too tiny to involve you. Put the disc in the cold, black box and push a button. That was the extent of your contact with the thing. Don't' like this song? Skip it. Skip that one, too.

Digital downloads are even less involving, and much more isolating as it no longer requires that you enter a physical shop and rub elbows with fellow humans. The whole music experience is reduced to the mundane importance of reading email.

And, personally, I find rummaging around the iTunes or Amazon stores to be mind-numbing and, ultimately, puts me off actually buying anything.

I'm going to skip the ever-ongoing bit about digital music still sounding worse than analog
posted by Thorzdad at 4:41 AM on September 12, 2012 [20 favorites]


Again, it's not really any better, it's just that vinyl can't be abused the same way. If you mix a track to clipping on vinyl, the needle won't stay in the groove. So hard physical reality forces them to be somewhat more respectful in the mixing process.

There may be magical thinking involved, too, that digital can't be as good, but that's just crap. The same mix will always be better on a CD than on a record.
posted by Malor at 4:52 AM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


And, on vinyl you could do this.

No reason you can't do this with CDs - the entirely unexciting canonical use is promotional/business card CDs.
posted by Dr Dracator at 4:53 AM on September 12, 2012


I came here to do a half-assed job saying what Malor said well. Vinyl nostalgia is about one-third plain old nostalgia and two-thirds crappy remastering.
posted by mhoye at 4:55 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


My two cynical hypotheses of on the “rebirth” of vinyl are:
  1. The more you have invested in your system, the more confirmation bias tells you it sounds better.
  2. Vinyl is the record industry's last-gasp attempt attempt at relevancy, because the listener can't home-cut their own discs. As there's always analogue loss and the mounting noise floor in ripping from vinyl, it's self-policed rights management by the sound quality snobs. Imagine that: DRM conditioned into the listeners themselves. It's a perfect sales ploy!
posted by scruss at 4:56 AM on September 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I like the idea of vinyl and every once in a while I think about getting a turntable and digging those two milk crates of records out of the garage to listen to them but then I remember what a total pain in the ass records were. They skipped and scratched and warped and got dirty just looking at them. I'll stick with my mp3s for now.
posted by octothorpe at 5:02 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm just waiting for the resurgence of Pocket Rockers. For those who want a "physical connection to the format", nothing beats a fashionable cassette that you can clip to your belt! And since each one contains only two songs, you're forced to appreciate the music!
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:03 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


...I have a terabyte hard drive only barely larger than that.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:07 AM on September 12, 2012


I find I'm buying more vinyl+FLAC packages, as I like to have a physical object, and it's nice to have vinyl, but I don't actually listen to records much any more. I should - I have quite a good record player, albeit one that needs a lot of refurbishment.
posted by Grangousier at 5:10 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The thing with vinyl is that you have a genuine analog recording and playback medium. Modern digital recording samples and digitizes the sounds with certain assumptions. One assumption is that people have a hearing range between 20 and 20,000 cycles per second, and current digitization samples to capture that (which means sampling at twice the highest frequency, as per the Nyquist rate).

But really no one has ever done credible research on the effect of audible frequencies below and above the most commonly reported limits of audibility. It's entirely possible that people can detect or respond to sounds that are in the "sub-audible" or "supra-audible" frequency ranges. It's entirely possible that you can feel these sounds, even if you can't hear them.

It's entirely possible, given the structure of the ear, and the human hearing system, that people can detect signal frequencies above 20 Kilohertz. It wouldn't be easy to report that detection, but it's likely that it exists, because evolutionary response to audio signals most likely allows responses in those higher frequency ranges. For example, it would be reasonable for higher primates to detect the difference between stepping on a stick and the gnashing of teeth. There are similar components in both those signals, but the consequences are quite different and the difference is resolved only through sensitivity at fairly high frequency ranges. It's also likely that people can be aware of sounds that are lower in frequency than the commonly accepted lower limits of audible cognition. It's possible that some animals can "hear" earthquakes before they happen, for example.

What's happened with digital sampling is that judgments were made about price and performance and technology and that certain sampling ranges were standardized. It works really well. It's most likely equivalent to natural sound in most situations. If you ask somebody, they'll tell you that there's no difference. But maybe they don't feel the difference, because it's very subtle.

So that's the appeal of vinyl, I think; it lets all the components through without having some preconceived notion of human limitations.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:11 AM on September 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


And looking at that page, I remember why I've not had it restored - there's no way I can afford that!
posted by Grangousier at 5:11 AM on September 12, 2012


How odd is it that seeing an X-E link makes me feel older than any discussion on musical formats?
posted by Mezentian at 5:12 AM on September 12, 2012


My two cynical hypotheses of on the “rebirth” of vinyl are:
1. The more you have invested in your system, the more confirmation bias tells you it sounds better.
2. Vinyl is the record industry's last-gasp attempt attempt at relevancy, because the listener can't home-cut their own discs. As there's always analogue loss and the mounting noise floor in ripping from vinyl, it's self-policed rights management by the sound quality snobs. Imagine that: DRM conditioned into the listeners themselves. It's a perfect sales ploy!


posted by scruss at 7:56 AM on September 12 [+] [!]

Well,

1. You don't have to spend a lot to get it to sound fantastic. I have a decent sounding system made from handmedown components and a 70 dollar record player. A good friend built a Dynakit tube amp system for under $500 and it sounds phenomenal.

2. I download a lot. I pay for Spotify. I still buy and listen vinyl because it's a different experience. And most new (indie) records that come out come with a download code for DRM free high quality mp3's as well. So you're buying both - sometimes for the same price as just the mp3's or for only a tiny amount more.

And it sounds better.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 5:14 AM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Vinyl is all very well, but it's not like the warm, full sound of a proper shellac 78.
posted by Segundus at 5:15 AM on September 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


78?
I only listen to music that gets its groove on at 16 rpm.
Oh yeah.
posted by Mezentian at 5:19 AM on September 12, 2012


Sound is analog not digital so for me I'll always prefer it on an analog system.

As for record companies, they're all too busy moving into management to worry about sabotaging anything.
posted by ciderwoman at 5:22 AM on September 12, 2012


> The thing with vinyl is that you have a genuine analog recording and playback medium.

Not really. From the United Record Pressing FAQ (emphasis mine):
Do you want my music on an audio CD or as data files?
If United is cutting your lacquer, we require a hard copy of your music. This can be on CD or analog tape. Most of our customers deliver their music to us on a standard audio CD. …
posted by scruss at 5:31 AM on September 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


If the Voyager probe were sent today, would the sounds of Earth be sent on a gold CD?

I always imagine the aliens thinking, "You sent this vessel across millions of light-years and your playback mechanism is dragging something pointy through a long hole?"
posted by Egg Shen at 5:39 AM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sound quality hasn't really been important to me since I saw The Who in the Philadelphia Spectrum in 1979 (and that was AFTER Keith Moon had died), but there are other differences between vinyl and digital. Digital doesn't offer you this:

"Fall in locks: These are put at the end of a selection. The groove is locked forming a concentric circle at the end of the music making the last 1.8 or 1.3333 seconds repeat until someone lifts the tone arm."

Everyone above a certain age knows that sound.
posted by three blind mice at 5:43 AM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


twoleftfeet: "So that's the appeal of vinyl, I think; it lets all the components through without having some preconceived notion of human limitations."

Except that vinyl's frequency response isn't that much better, as I understand it. And that's for a record that's never been played before -- on each play the top-end frequencies are the first to go.

And then there's the RIAA equalization curve. The physical limitations of vinyl records and their players are such that any benefit in increased frequency response and dynamic range are almost surely negated.

I think bands that are offering a vinyl+FLAC/MP3 download are being very sensible. You get the benefit of digital playback and also the physical artifact. Over the weekend my grandfather gave me a big stack of records he and his father have been collecting for almost a hundred years. It's unlikely we'll play them very much, but they are lovely things and I'm glad people are still making them.
posted by vanar sena at 5:45 AM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can grasp the love of classic vinyl records, but when artists and labels release new vinyl I feel like I've been transported to the Stupid Dimension.

But the you see the prices they charge for the vinyl release and suddenly it all makes sense.

And reissues on vinyl (especially when it's just vinyl - no CD or digital version) inspires me to murder. I can still recall a recent reissue that was (get this) remastered from a CD copy - and then released on vinyl.

Also, people who upload rare tracks online - and then add scratches and pops for "atmosphere" - they all need to be ejected into the North Atlantic by trebuchet.
posted by panboi at 5:48 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


What, no love for the meaty KACHUNK of an 8-track right in the middle of a song? Vinyl lovers are just not hipster enough.
posted by Foosnark at 6:03 AM on September 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sound is analog not digital so for me I'll always prefer it on an analog system

Every album you buy now was recorded and edited on a computer, even if it ends up getting pressed on vinyl, so whatever mythical analog purity you think you are getting from vinyl never existed.
posted by empath at 6:08 AM on September 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


panboi: "when artists and labels release new vinyl I feel like I've been transported to the Stupid Dimension. "

I don't see much difference between vinyl and t-shirts or posters as merchandise. Album art has been an almost inseparable and carefully crafted part of commercial music for a long time, and vinyl jackets are just a better medium for it than tapes or CDs ever were. Yeah, you end up getting shafted on the price of a vinyl record that you'll hardly ever play, but I don't think there's any band that requires you to purchase vinyl to get a digital download.

I fully understand being dismissive of people who claim some sort of objective superiority of vinyl as an audio reproduction medium, but not why folks get so upset by something they don't have to buy.
posted by vanar sena at 6:08 AM on September 12, 2012


Inaccurate. Vinyl's been back for years.
posted by melt away at 6:08 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


One thing I believe is overlooked in the frequency range of CDs is that, while the maximum recoradble frequency is 22.05khz, this means there are literally only two sample points per period. This transforms a nice sine wave into a horrible sawtooth wave that's so noisy that it would be unlistenable if it carried a more important part of the musical information. Even at a much more noticeable frequency of around 11khz, things like cymbals are being represented with only 4 sample points per wave period, not significantly better. So my theory is that vinyl doesn't sound better because you're hearing HIGHER frequencies than what is possible on CDs, but simply that the high frequency sounds you can hear are significantly less distorted on vinyl.
posted by Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer at 6:12 AM on September 12, 2012


Part of it, I think, has to do with ceremony and our attachment to music.

I was going to suggest this and add that vinyl also means you have a turntable with lots of parts to fiddle with. You can swap out the cartridge, maybe even try out a new tone arm, fiddle with belts if it's belt drive, fire up the strobe light and futz with the speed, etc. And that's before you get to outright woo on the level of painting your cd's green.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:14 AM on September 12, 2012


I find all arguments about "sound quality" to be risible on the face of them; people, most of them at any rate, can't hear the frequencies they're arguing about. I know I certainly can't, and I don't care even a little tiny bit. I care about music. Audiophilism is the antithesis of music.

I also care about object fetishism; LP packages are fantastic things -- but so are plenty of CD packages. My wife and I buy close to a thousand records a year, on all formats, and our decisions are based entirely on what's available and how much it costs. I buy a ton of crappy old used LPs, because they haven't been reissued on CD, or if they have they cost six times as much. But I also buy a ton of new CDs, new LPs, used CDs, and I have a literal ton of 78s in the garage.

Right now I'm listening to a lot of Colombian cumbia, a great deal of which has been reissued from the original 78s (78s were a common format in Colombia well into the 1970s) by a London company called Soundways. I mostly buy these on LP because the artwork is so spectacular; the package just looks better, feels better, handles better. But I'll buy the CD if that's what I find in the shop. Soundways includes a free MP3 download with their LPs.

If a thrashed vinyl copy of some obscure folk-rock singer-songwriter stuff is all I can find, I'm happy. If a new CD compilation of Goffin-King compositions comes out, I'm ecstatic. The CD reissue of Paul Williams's "Someday Man" on Now Sounds was more important to me than Christmas. We live in a Golden Age of CD reissues; this is the single greatest achievement of our culture. You people who are too young to remember life before have no idea how great it is.

For current music, I don't care. A CD is easier, but if they want to put out a vinyl LP, fine. Most modern music leaves me cold, anyways; it's mostly retro-based anyways, so I'll listen to the ORIGINAL ripoffs rather than the NEW ripoffs, if that's OK (all good music is based on theft).
posted by Fnarf at 6:16 AM on September 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Hey, we only ever used green on the edges, just to keep the laser from leaking out.
posted by bonehead at 6:17 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


> What I've seen some people doing is, on the very first play of a new record, digitally recording
> it with a really good analog in.

Been doing that since long before digital (initially from the brand new vinyl to a Revox reel-to-reel.)

> Second, because I'm sick of hearing how great the sound quality is from people who are more in love
> with the unnecessary noises and pops and hisses introduced by the medium than they are by the music.

A new just-unwrapped DGG or European Philips pressing had no noise that my ears could detect, though I suppose an engineer with appropriate test gear might find some. The whole point of the rerecord-the-disk trick is to thereafter only play your duplicate so that the vinyl never has a chance to pick up damage. Sure this is pain in butt, but at the time I purchased most of the vinyl I've got there wasn't any other choice.

They're all being re-recorded to FLAC now, though I certainly won't live to finish the job. Being sort of compulsively organized I started ripping them in alphabetical order by composer and then within a composer in alphabetical order by type of work (or by catalog number if some scholar has gone through all the composer's stuff and given each piece a catalog number.) But I soon quit that and said nope, better do this favorites first.
posted by jfuller at 6:19 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I dislike vinyl for two reasons. First, because it's a pain to keep safe and clean compared to other formats.

Pshaw. I've got vinyl LPs that are absolutely pristine sixty years after they were made, while almost every CD I, or anyone, owns comes in a pre-uglified container called a "jewel case", which is the least jewel-like object ever invented. All of mine -- ALL of them -- are scratched and cloudy.

Vinyl is all very well, but it's not like the warm, full sound of a proper shellac 78

I detect sarcasm, but a well-made mint-condition electrical 78 played with the proper stylus through a good system sounds like nothing on earth. Even many acoustic records sound fantastic if played properly. 78 RPM gives you a hell of a lot of inches of analog information flying past.
posted by Fnarf at 6:23 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


You people who are too young to remember life before have no idea how great it is.

QFT.

I am engraving this line on my lawn chair.
posted by chavenet at 6:29 AM on September 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


By the way...If anyone happens to have a spare Grado Prestige Blue replacement stylus laying around, and you'd like to get rid of it cheap, drop me a line. I have 4 crates of vinyl my kids have been drooling to listen to for years, but for lack of a new stylus for my cartridge. Do it for the youth of tomorrow?
posted by Thorzdad at 6:32 AM on September 12, 2012


I'll tell you one way that CDs beat LPs: you could flip through them at the used record shop way faster. I finally gave up standing in Cheapo Records and going through the LPs (flop...flop...flop) because I could check out a whole row of CDs (tack-tack-tack!) in a fraction of the time.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:33 AM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was thinking of making a FPP built around this link but I think I will just drop it here, seeing as the argument is that "we" (the NPR we, that is) now prefer "sad" music in our Top 40 rather than "happy," like we did in the halcyon days of the 50s and 60s.

Why We're Happy Being Sad: Pop's Emotional Evolution.
posted by chavenet at 6:34 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought this was kind of a serendipitous coincidence.
posted by dubitable at 6:38 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think a FPP around this idea would be fab.

"we" (the NPR we, that is) now prefer "sad" music in our Top 40 rather than "happy,

Wait...Ke$ha, Lady Gaga.... others. Perry!
It's not sad.
Hollow and empty? Sure.

I'm also sad there was no Danse Society Fan at NPR.
Or a Jesus and Mary Chain fan.
posted by Mezentian at 6:39 AM on September 12, 2012


This transforms a nice sine wave into a horrible sawtooth wave that's so noisy that it would be unlistenable if it carried a more important part of the musical information.

No, actually, it doesn't.

Your view of the digitization process is the naive one -- I used to think the same thing. I thought the digital samples looked like stairsteps, with the volume staying at a constant level until it got to a new sample, instantly moving to that new level, staying at a fixed volume until the next sample, and so on.

This is not how it works. What's actually going on is a reconstruction of the original analog waveform. I wish I could show you a diagram, but basically, given several points in the sample, there is only one curve that mathematically fits. It's a series of curves between points, not a nasty set of jaggies. The playback device is solving an equation, not running a stairstep. Any data that it can't reproduce, any little wiggles in the waveform that it can't copy, will by definition be above the Nyquist limits.

This means that a CD, when it's playing samples at 44.1KHz, will reproduce any sound with frequency components of up to 22.05Khz exactly. They use math, not stairsteps, and 22.05Khz can be represented as perfectly as 500KHz. In reality, they put a high-pass filter on it, because there's some weirdness with intermodulation noise that I don't fully grasp, but it's NOT a jagged sawtooth waveform. The equations come out absolutely perfectly, up to the limits of Nyquist.

The actual playback hardware does internal oversampling and other tricks to avoid some of the issues with working in the digital domain, and we're completely unaware of them -- the chips are handed 44.1Khz digital data, and music comes out, and we don't see the internal wizardry being done. But what comes out is gorgeous, perfect within its defined problem space. No stairsteps. No jaggies. The waveforms are exact, as long as the frequency components are at 22.05KHz or lower.

To paraphrase XKCD: Math. It works, bitches.
posted by Malor at 6:39 AM on September 12, 2012 [15 favorites]


As someone who has never owned a record player in their life, vinyl is frustrating. It simply doesn't match up at all with the way I listen to music (either on the go or while working at my computer), which means I have to rearrange my life if I want to listen to music on vinyl. I have to buy a record player—oh no, but not just any record player. Those $80 Crosleys will eat your vinyl alive and treat your mother badly to boot. No, you either have to buy a turntable used or move up to AT LEAST one of those Pro-Ject Debuts (list price: $449 CAD), and even that's just the bare minimum to get started, you probably will want a better cartridge or tonearm down the road, really, if we're to be completely honest.

Used? Well, hope you know what you're buying when you look at it! Belt-driven turntable? It's probably a DJ turntable, and if it's used it's probably been beaten to shit, so you definitely don't want that. You'll certainly want to check it out, preferably by showing up in person and bringing a record whose sound you know well to—wait, what's that? You don't know what the record sounds like because you don't own a record player?

After you bring that record player home, you're going to need a sound system to plug it into. Of course, you idiot, did you think it came with speakers? And no, the nice M-Audio proto-studio monitors plugged into your computer probably won't cut it, not unless you have a phono preamp (starting at, oh, $100 maybe?). But you're not going to lug your computer speakers out to the living room, the only place you can even put a turntable because your apartment isn't that big. So you're going to need a sound system. Even though you don't actually listen to music in your living room very often anyways. Well, okay, maybe you can justify it by saying your movies and video games will sound better, too.

Great! Now you've dropped a grand on new sound equipment! Time to play some records! What's that? Almost everything you want to buy on vinyl is available on CD or MP3 as well? Hmm, then why are you paying the extra $10 for the vinyl to get essentially the same thing plus a big black disc you may or may not play that often? Oh, but there's tons of stuff that only ever comes out on vinyl. Take this Smuggler's Way flexidisc zine from Record Store Day. It's a really neat package—it's a zine, and there are flexidiscs in it, which sound like a really cool idea on the surface! But don't ever try to PLAY those flexidiscs—they're relatively fragile, so you could easily wreck them, and even if you don't they actually don't sound that great, which is why you can't even find very good illegal rips at your local pirating emporium.

I think vinyl is great in that it's gotten people to enjoy music in ways they're not necessarily used to, and if I had all the money in the world I would probably have a record collection. But right now, vinyl is far more interesting to me for the artwork than for the actual music, and at that point what exactly am I paying for?
posted by chrominance at 6:42 AM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


To paraphrase XKCD: Math. It works, bitches.

It doesn't man.
IT DOES NOT.
posted by Mezentian at 6:42 AM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


vinyl is frustrating. It simply doesn't match up at all with the way I listen to music

My verdant expanse of flat greenery: step off it.
posted by Mezentian at 6:44 AM on September 12, 2012 [4 favorites]




Revolutions Per Decade*

Music consumers
want their music on MP3
Just so many all remastered, compressed, and digitized
Waiting in files
to be selected, set on repeat, and when their buzz has died
Discarded

More fastidious music fans
Prefer music on CD
These are more exclusive
Look better and last longer
If the band was good
They aren't given away

Music lovers
Keep their music on LP
They become more attached to them the older they become
And when the grooves are deeply scratched
They still look after them
Wipe them astatically
And care for them always

No one shares their LPs


* offered with a tip of the hat and a stack of pennies on the tonearm to the anonymous author of "Smoke Rings".
posted by Herodios at 6:51 AM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I fully understand being dismissive of people who claim some sort of objective superiority of vinyl as an audio reproduction medium, but not why folks get so upset by something they don't have to buy.

Because sometimes you can only get it on vinyl. When you're talking about reissues of rare albums (for instance, the Dalek I Love You debut album) this becomes quite important.

I don't have an issue with people who want to pretend that vinyl sounds better because they have magic ears. I don't have an issue with desperate labels who see a cash cow with a market demographic willing to conspire with them on this. All I'm asking is for choice so that fans of the actual music can enjoy it too.

Also - my lawn is fully mined.
posted by panboi at 6:56 AM on September 12, 2012


I loved liner notes, arty covers, the feeling of walking home from the record shop with a beautiful physical object.

Hated turntable and other physical wear. A needle boring into vinyl can only fuck it up.

I kept my 300 favourite LPs. Wow, I paid a terrible amount of money for them too.
posted by Wolof at 7:01 AM on September 12, 2012


Thanks for the info, Malor! I'm an engineer, but I'm not particularly into digital domain junk, so it's awesome to know that DACs are doing a better job than I thought, instead of just linearly interpolating or stair-steeping. Yay technology! Now I just need to find another reason to like the sound of LPs more (besides nostalgia) considering they were mostly obsolete before I was born...
posted by Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer at 7:06 AM on September 12, 2012


No stairsteps. No jaggies. The waveforms are exact, as long as the frequency components are at 22.05KHz or lower.

To paraphrase XKCD: Math. It works, bitches.

Math works, but only on paper. In the physical world, digital to analog converters produce varying degrees of quantization error, phase distortion, jitter, and harmonic distortion. The math also predicts all of this, but you have to account for it.
posted by three blind mice at 7:07 AM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Two words as to why vinyl will always matter to some of us: pre-1990 material. I have some old classical records and some pop/folk relative rarities that will never come out on CD. Also, the only available digital versions of older popular recordings have often been remixed and are poorer for it. White Bird's "It's a Beautiful Day" comes to mind: some genius added organ to the CD version so it would sound more like "Whiter Shade of Pale," I guess. So if you don't have access to the vinyl version, you're kind of screwed.

On a retro, old-folks note: I made the mistake of paying $16 for the IMAX version of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" last night. Whatever the easiest, cheapest way they could retrofit IMAX onto that film, they did it, and the result is worth crying over. I left at the point where each spider on Alfred Molina's back had an obvious ghost. I would have done better watching it on a TV with rabbit ears.

When I got home, I consoled myself with a Chaliapin LP, played on my TURNTABLE. No digital artifacts, no inexplicable lack of warmth or dimension, just great sound. Will I digitize my vinyl? Absolutely, although that's no guarantee that I'll be able to listen to it 30 years from now if I'm still around. But they will have to pry my vinyl from my cold, crablike hands.
posted by Currer Belfry at 7:13 AM on September 12, 2012


big-ass beautiful record sleeves.
gate-fold monstrosities that are a joy to just sit and stare at.
an instant rolling table.
you don't get those with Cds or mp3s.
posted by Frasermoo at 7:14 AM on September 12, 2012


In reality, they put a high-pass filter on it, because there's some weirdness with intermodulation noise that I don't fully grasp, but it's NOT a jagged sawtooth waveform.

It's a low-pass filter (it passes low frequencies, and blocks high frequenices) with a very high Q value, which makes it a very "sharp" filter -- 20KHz is basically passed untouched, 22KHz, however, is for all intents blocked completely.

The filter is called the anti-aliasing filter, because when you record a frequency higher than 1/2 the sample rate, you end up with an aliasing problem. The DTFT used to recreated the waveform creates a series of waveforms, shifted by the sampling frequency. If you, however, sample frequencies higher than 1/2 the sample rate, those series of waveforms start to overlap, and distortion occurs.

Oversampling is used to make an even harder wall -- you oversample at a higher rate, filter that, then resample back to 44.1KHz and get an even sharper filter at 20KHz.
posted by eriko at 7:20 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am honestly surprised by claims that there are still further increases in vinyl sales world-wide. There is a particular Fetish-ization of vinyl that has been going on for years. That seemed to really start with the rise of "Dj Culture".

Much as there is a certain segment of society with a Fetish for Gold Bullion (Gold Bugs) there is a segment of alternative / dance culture that adores records for their own sake.

I think in certain circles they function as the only acceptable display of 'cultural-wealth' - an outward form of elitism amongst music critics and obsessive fans. Where ones status is best measured by the size of ones record collection.

However it had started to feel like this 'wealth' was becoming devalued in the internet age. Where long lost vinyl 'rarities' can be virtually obtained and stored away much more easily on hard-drives. That is it had seemed to me as though this fetish for the physical was being replaced (in younger music fans) with a fetish for data. ( hi-quality VBR / FLAC/ MP3s ) amongst most under 25s seem to be enough.

Sure there seem to be small pockets of younger fans who are inspired (perhaps by older uncles and films) to invest in the physical. But ultimately what is valued these days seems to be the awareness of and experience of hearing the most rare recordings around. Owning a physical copy of it seems so anachronistic.
posted by mary8nne at 7:30 AM on September 12, 2012


The thing with vinyl is that you have a genuine analog recording and playback medium.

Sure - a medium that has inherent physical limitations for both the creation of a vinyl record & the playback equipment. Especially if the intent is to mass-produce records & turntables. I'm sure there are people out there who have expensive, specially balanced, physically-isolated-from-the-enivronment turntables, and only buy the best, thickest, top quality, specialized records who can get outstanding frequency response and signal-to-noise ratio and minimal distortion out of their vinyl playback systems. But your average turntable + record is at about a 45Hz to 15kHz frequency response, 75 db signal to noise ratio, 1% distortion. Whereas even a cheapo CD player & CD is fully capable of 20Hz to 20k, 90 db, .05% distortion.

One assumption is that people have a hearing range between 20 and 20,000 cycles per second

This is not an assumption. This is based on compiling the results of hundreds of thousands of hearing tests conducted for a wide variety of reasons.

But really no one has ever done credible research on the effect of audible frequencies below and above the most commonly reported limits of audibility. It's entirely possible that people can detect or respond to sounds that are in the "sub-audible" or "supra-audible" frequency ranges. It's entirely possible that you can feel these sounds, even if you can't hear them.

Sure they have. Various militaries have experimented with sub-sonic weapons, and then there's the mosquito/teenager repellent idea of putting out "supra-audible" tones that your average adult can't hear. Results have been . . . . . mixed.

Besides which, not only are vinyl records physically incapable of producing these "extra-audible" frequencies, so are the speakers people are listening on. Trying to put out 10hz requires large speakers with lots of power behind them - like 24" diameter & thousands of watts. Put 10 Hz through your average stereo speaker & you can watch the components fly across the room.

So there's not much need to do "credible research on the effect of audible frequencies below and above the most commonly reported limits of audibility" if neither the recording nor the playback system can actually reproduce those frequencies.

It's entirely possible, given the structure of the ear, and the human hearing system, that people can detect signal frequencies above 20 Kilohertz.

Possible, sure - undoubtedly a handful of people have "super" hearing. But again, this has actually been tested thousands upon thousands of times - 20kHz is a practical limit for 99% of humanity.

For example, it would be reasonable for higher primates to detect the difference between stepping on a stick and the gnashing of teeth. There are similar components in both those signals, but the consequences are quite different and the difference is resolved only through sensitivity at fairly high frequency ranges.

The sound of a stick breaking and the sound of teeth gnashing have lots of audio information and differences well within the bounds of "standard" human hearing - no need for super-sonic hearing.

It's also likely that people can be aware of sounds that are lower in frequency than the commonly accepted lower limits of audible cognition. It's possible that some animals can "hear" earthquakes before they happen, for example.

It's well-known that different animals have different ranges of hearing. This is not relevant to humans listening to music.

And there's no argument over whether humans can possibly sense sub-sonic frequencies - the debate is whether it's necessary to take this into account when recording or reproducing music. Especially since the instruments themselves do not produce these sub-or-supra frequencies. See here.

What's happened with digital sampling is that judgments were made about price and performance and technology

True, but not, I think, in the sense that you mean. Various companies had sunk so much money into R&D that there was a rush to market in order to begin to recoup some of the expenses. So early CD players had less-than-optimal error correction and anti-aliasing & DACs, and mastering engineers & pressing plants were still working off their old standards of audio quality (based on limited reproduction systems like vinyl and cassette) and the end result was that early CD's & CD players often sounded bad.

Which, of course, led to an outcry of "Vinyl Sounds Better!!!!", which is still with us today, years after the early problems have been fixed and improved.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:37 AM on September 12, 2012 [13 favorites]


> I think in certain circles they function as the only acceptable display of 'cultural-wealth' - an
> outward form of elitism amongst music critics and obsessive fans. Where ones status is
> best measured by the size of ones record collection

So, that little chamber orchestra that sits around me and plays stuff while I eat PB&J at the kitchen table. That gets me no points at all?
posted by jfuller at 7:40 AM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Vinyl reproduction comes with its own problems and inconsistencies, namely the RIAA Equalization problem. Without it, low frequencies would result in record grooves so wide they would be completely impractical. All playback amplifiers must re-equalize for the filtered master recording, and those filters are inexact and reduce dynamic range at low frequencies.
posted by rocket88 at 7:40 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Best reason for vinyl? Studies show that 22 1/2 minutes is the time it takes for a person's arm to fall asleep while making out. Flipping the LP is an opportunity to come up for air, shake out the pins & needles and ease into a new position.
posted by morganw at 7:49 AM on September 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


78?
I only listen to music that gets its groove on at 16 rpm.


That's 16 2/3 rpm to you, mister.

(Bonus)
posted by flug at 8:03 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I buy vinyl as a collector's item. I do not listen to them. I actually do buy CDs and rip them myself; I do this because 1 - paying for "digital objects" is something I will never feel totally comfortable with, 2 - I still have a hard copy that can be played on any computer (in absence of a stereo) built since the early 90s.
posted by Dark Messiah at 8:05 AM on September 12, 2012


I like the sound quality, and I have a good enough rig and good enough collection that the noise floor isn't much of a problem, but generally I buy vinyl for three reasons:

(1) Album art is nice.

(2) Lots of the things I want to listen to have never been reissued and are not digitized anywhere. (Yes, really. My favorite jazz recording is a 1955 session with Sidney Bechet, Zutty Singleton, and Lil Armstrong in Paris. Not available anywhere but vinyl, although one of these days I'll get around .)

(3) It is cheaper. Much cheaper. Cheaper than iTunes, cheaper than bargain-bin CDs. I don't buy a whole lot of new music, and the music I do like – mid 20th century classical music and jazz – is very often an insanely good deal.

See, the thing about classical music is that for our parents' generation – and their parents before them, to some extent, stretching back to WWII – it was often seen as an important emblem of cultural status to have classical records in one's home. They were there to show that you were in touch with the important artistic works. They weren't there to actually listen to – they were there to be seen by visitors, and maybe put on at a party once every few years.

So the result is that, in the backs of record stores everywhere today, there are stacks and stacks and stacks of the greatest classical music ever recorded – the middle of the 20th century was an incredible time for this stuff, it was recorded and played much more than it is today – and since it was hardly played when it was bought, the records are quite often in mind condition. And since classical music isn't cool – nobody seems to go to record stores to buy classical on vinyl – that stuff is available for pennies on the dollar. I have a record store I can go to and buy five classical records for 99 cents. Seriously, that's an awesome deal. And it's even true to some extent with jazz records; the iconic 60s stuff seems to be prized, but a lot of the stuff I really want – reissues of 1920s and 1930s records – is priced at $5 per album and below, often for two-record sets.

Also, I think a lot of the discussion about sound quality here is misguided – or maybe I should say that it doesn't apply strictly to the kinds of music I like. It is technically true that CDs currently admit of better sound quality than records. However, that has little to do with whether a given record from before the CD era will sound better than its CD counterpart. There are a slew of factors here. First of all, stuff that was "remastered" and transferred to digital at the beginning of the CD era is almost certain to sound bad – and that's a lot of stuff, unfortunately. Classical music has been on a steady decline for decades, and even in the past 20 years it's been less and less popular, so much more classical music was being transferred in 1990 than is now. And there's that unfortunate problem of the "remastering" process itself; there's a huge amount of silly gimmickry that people have tried there, and there have been times when it's as bad or even worse than the artificial "stereo" they used to impose on mono records back in the 1960s. For example – I have a "remastered" edition of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On album. It's terrible. What people seem to be trying to do with a lot of these remasters is digitally separate the instruments so that levels can be properly adjusted for the CD format. But that's always artificial, and it destroys the breadth of sound available in the source. What's needed isn't remastering; it's high-quality transfers. But I guess "high-quality transfer" isn't a label that shifts as many units as "digitally remastered."

Like it or not, the 1950s were sort of a golden age of recording quality in a lot of ways, and some real advances were made then. A lot of recordings were still terrible, but a lot were quite good. It's just a very complicated question, trying to figure out whether a reissue from yesterday is better than the original was in 1955 – there are a lot of factors: was it reissued first some time in 1991, and is this just a rerelease of that transfer? Was it mucked about with in a studio? Etc, etc.

Basically, for $20 at my local record store, I get a dozen or so records I actually want. Half of them won't be available on iTunes or on CD. And they'll probably have comparable sound quality, if not better (since most will be in mint condition.) So – yeah. Vinyl is clearly a better choice for me.
posted by koeselitz at 8:06 AM on September 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


I buy vinyl on a regular basis, because I like it, always have. Born in 1959, I grew up through it's golden age. But it's true that the MAN did kill vinyl in the 1980s, tried to anyway. Of course, the MAN tried to kill all things decent and good in the 1980s. Vinyl was no exception.

The turning point for me was 1989. I got a big fat paycheck, went down to my favorite cool local record with a hundred bucks in hand, prepared to finally commit to the CD reality. Except something happened on the way to the CD section. I passed the USED vinyl section. All these great albums I'd always wanted, dead cheap, because everybody was dumping their vinyl.

So instead of buying maybe five CDs, I walked out of that place with more than twenty albums. Thus was my future set.
posted by philip-random at 8:11 AM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just got Exile on Main St on 180g vinyl. Now I have a reasonably expensive system with an amp with the required phono pre-amp and a Dual turntable that's about 7 years old. Exile and I are old friends, my first copy was bought during their '75 tour. We've been around the block a few times. Anyway, the bottom on this was an improvement, the bass was sturdy, Mick wasn't totally buried in the mix, and it still sounded rough enough around the edges to make it sound like the same record. Score one for quality vinyl.
posted by Ber at 8:13 AM on September 12, 2012


One of my favourite formats always gets lost in the shuff
ost in the shuff
ost in the shuffRRRRRRRRRRR
From about 1965 to 1975 you could get your music on 7 inch reel-to-reel tape.
More robust than vinyl, less noisy than carts and cassettes, more hassle than either.

Dolby NR on cassettes put the final nail in the format's coffin as far as retailing pre-recorded audio to consumers, but not before I picked up Sgt Pepper's, Magical Mystery Tour, and some other crazy stuff like The United States of America, and sound effects demo records. My parents had some classical, Montovani, 101 Strings and other easy listening and movie soundtrack albums on open reel tape. I believe they also had an open reel version of Time-Life's The Swing Era collection (which worked a little better than did the forty year old flexidisc in that Youtube clip).

Tails out!
 
posted by Herodios at 8:16 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think I'm superior for listening to vinyl. I don't claim to be able to tell vinyl apart from Compact Disc blindfolded, and my turntable is a beat-up, 30+ year old low-end Garrard that was nothing special back then. It cost me all of $30 to put a new belt and cartridge on it. I don't particularly care how many ways newer formats are superior or more practical... that's not an argument you're going to win with most vinyl enthusiasts.

I will happily pay a few bucks more for a physical copy of the analog media with big artwork, readable liner notes and maybe even a nice gatefold, especially since most new vinyl includes a code for a digital download. Best of both worlds. Plus, like koeselitz says, used vinyl in superb shape is dirt cheap if you don't care about sleeve wear.
posted by usonian at 8:17 AM on September 12, 2012


Working link to Time-Life's The Swing Era collection Youtube clip.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:20 AM on September 12, 2012


amongst our weaponry. . . .
posted by Herodios at 8:22 AM on September 12, 2012


Over the weekend my grandfather gave me a big stack of records he and his father have been collecting for almost a hundred years. It's unlikely we'll play them very much

Play them!!!

Playing a record is a special occasion. (Not like turning on an IPod Shuffle or whatnot). It's a ritual. And it's a rewarding one, if you have a good system and keep your vinyl in good shape (it's not hard). I've got a pair of JBL L112s from 1980, an old Sansui AU-317 amplifier (1975), and a Pro-Ject turntable (the only modern component). And a ton of vinly, both old and new that I've been collecting for over 30 years. I listen to CDs too, and sometimes FLAC or mp3, but nothing brings me the same joy and satisfaction as putting a record on the turntable, spinning it up, sitting back on the sofa and LISTENING to it. (Not having in on in the background while I'm commuting to work or whatnot). In my opinion, audio equipment hasn't really gotten better since the golden era (70s-early 80s), it's just gotten cheaper and more commodified.

For me this picture (cover of a record released in 2008) says it all.... Vinyl's been back for a while, this is not really news!
posted by crazy_yeti at 8:52 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some of the best moments of my misspent youth were spent riffling through the aisles and aisles of LPs at Princeton Record Exchange and then spinning those slabs at WESU and WKDU where I DJ'ed or in the privacy of my own living room. I never spent a fortune on my "system"; I've had basic Denons and Stantons and now have an old Yahama turntable inherited from my SO's grandfather (a former minister who would be spinning in his grave if he knew that it was being used to enjoy Black Sabbath and other devil music that I like.)

My only beef with vinyl is that it's a SERIOUS pain in the A when you have to move house (and being quite nomadic in my 20s and early 30s, this was often). My sister, helping me one time, said, "Couldn't you get into a lighter hobby? Like maybe feathers?"
posted by medeine at 8:54 AM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


*Yamaha (more coffee, pls)
posted by medeine at 8:55 AM on September 12, 2012


What, no love for the meaty KACHUNK of an 8-track right in the middle of a song? Vinyl lovers are just not hipster enough.

I was at "Trailer Food Tuesday" last month here in Austin and one of the food trailers had an eight-track and I changed it. It had been so long that I had to think about how to eject it (no, Ginger, just pull the old one out) and then I put Saturday Night Fever in. KA-CHUNK! Then I boogied my middle-aged disco butt away with my takoyaki. Take THAT, hipsters!

I lived through vinyl (when I was a kid), eight-tracks (when I was a tween), cassettes and CDs and now the digital age. I really love my MP3s, even though, yeah, I can hear the dynamic range differences in older produced songs and newer songs. That iTunes thing that's supposed to equalize volume across songs doesn't work across five decades of music mastering! But I do not get the crazy love for the turntable or the cassette deck, especially the latter, which I HATED at the time other than for portability. I know what that pencil is for!

If you want to have a music-listening ritual, cool beans. I'll sit here doing my thing and let iTunes pick my next album without me having to get up and turn the record, thanks.
posted by immlass at 8:58 AM on September 12, 2012


KACHUNK

I also miss the "SPLAT" from one vinyl disc being dropped about 4-5 inches onto a stack of already played records. Ah, console stereos!
posted by malocchio at 9:17 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I started listing to and collecting vinyl about 2 years ago. Mostly older folks ask me why.

1) As mentioned up-thread. Fetishism, there is something really fun about the smell, feel, and visual of vinyl.

2) Collecting is tons of fun. I like digging through used bins and finding awesome things.

3) I can support bands I like and still get something physical in exchange. This sounds silly, but getting a new record is fun. Usually they come with an mp3 download for portability, and if not I have a usb out on my record player. I think it is important to pay for music I love, and vinyl is a good vehicle.
posted by pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated at 9:26 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wish all the people reminiscing about vinyl had to carry around 50 lb bags of records to gigs, paid 15 dollars to import a record you'd play three times, ever, at best, had to deal with carrying styluses around and trying to get them to make a connection with the rotted out toner arm of a 10 year old technics 1200, had a record bend in half when you put it on a turntable at a poolside gig that had been sitting out in the sun, had bass pop needles out of the groove, had to deal with sound guys dropping mixers and skipping the needle, cleaning fuzz out of records, etc etc etc..

I was so happy when clubs started installing Cdj turntables, and stopped buying vinyl as soon as I could. I actually tried to unload all my dance records recently, and was told by the store that they wouldn't even take them for free.
posted by empath at 9:37 AM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'll sit here doing my thing and let iTunes pick my next album

This remark is very much to the point.

I don't "do things" when I listen to music because what I am doing is listening to music.

For me the "ritual" of changing the record/tape -- that is, deciding what music to listen to next -- does not rankle because it is not distracting me from what I'm doing -- it is what I'm doing.

I have very little use for background music, even while driving, and I don't mind being left alone with my own thoughts. I do some of my best thinking when I can hear myself think. And recent research points to the conclusion that humans greatly overestimate their performance at multi-tasking.

sounds silly, but getting a new record is fun.

Of course it is! And if that's a "fetish", then a fetish isn't ifso fatso a bad thing. It's just an association of an object to an intangible.

Music is mysterious and regarding it solely as information is still a little bit unnatural for us monkeys. Maybe someday. For now, having things to regard along with the sound helps provide context.

We vary in how important that is to us.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:45 AM on September 12, 2012


The sad part is, I still willingly buy CDs—in fact, I buy pretty much all my music on CDs. Why? I think these days it's basically because I already own 400+ CDs, all stacked nicely on bookshelf inserts, and I like having them around. Plus I can actually rip music off them and put them on my phone. But I know I'm crazy when I say those things.

What's not crazy: they're also cheaper than new vinyl about 80% of the time. Once I saw a Polvo EP on vinyl with some wicked cover art, and then I looked at the price and it was TWENTY DOLLARS. FOR AN EP. I don't like Polvo that much.
posted by chrominance at 9:46 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a huge vinyl geek.
And just like with audiophiles railing against mp3 in favor of FLAC or photogs complaining about the "fake authenticity" of Instagram filters, once again the point gets missed: I like it because I like it.

The medium possesses aesthetic qualities that I enjoy. It's not ruled by a bullet-pointed balance sheet of superior qualities that when added up result in a clear winner. The limitations are a feature. Not a bug.

Essentially I like it because I like it and I'm not getting logic'd into or out of that.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 9:51 AM on September 12, 2012


And if that's a "fetish", then a fetish isn't ifso fatso a bad thing.

I'm sure it's a reference to something, but that particular eggcorn was so jarring it just made one of my eyes turn sideways in my skull.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:01 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was born in the early 70s. I grew up in a house with a fair number of records. CDs came out a little after I started buying my own, and I was glad to see the big awkward things go. I kinda missed cover art for a couple years but I got over it; all my really formative musical experiences were on CD.

I ripped most of them to MP3 somewhere in the nineties. I'd still pick one out and put it on but that happened less and less.

I lost all that stuff in Katrina, but my hard drive was in my bag. Nowadays I only buy digital music. I don't WANT the atoms. I have some vaguely decent speakers, ones good enough that I don't imagine my father's ghost cringing every time I play music (he was an audio engineer).

I don't miss vinyl at all. Kids, come play on my lawn. We'll have a glitch party.
posted by egypturnash at 10:07 AM on September 12, 2012


It's worth remembering that the heights of audiophelia in the 50s through the 70s involved reel-to-reel tape because vinyl reproduction was so problematic. There are all kinds of reasons to like vinyl albums, but even at their height of poularity fidelity of sound wasn't one of them.
posted by bonehead at 10:12 AM on September 12, 2012


My former complication used to wax romantic about his cocaine habit when he was a medium-flying talent manager in Los Angeles, and he readily copped to doing speedballs over the sniffier mode of operation because he liked the theater of the needle.

I hardly listen to my mountains of vinyl anymore, though I do love the theatrical moment of actually playing a record, and how it was a ritual a bit like a rite of spiritual observance. In my bedroom in Scaggsville, I used to put on a Beatles record, put my magenta-flocked styrofoam wig form over the tall spindle on my Soundesign record changer, and dance around the room singing into my soldering iron.

She was a working girl, north of England way.
Now she's hit the big time, in the USA.

And if she could only hear me, this is what I'd say—

I jitterbugged my demented way around the room to Duck Stab, shangalanged my crazy feets to the spectacular discombobulation of Parliament, tapped the desk thoughtfully to Bach's English Suite No. 2 with my tuna-can AKG headphones tethered to the phone jack, and carefully followed the instructions on the back of On Land and borrowed the speaker from my giant shortwave radio so I could lie on the floor in the dark, drifting through the space of Eno's quiet music.

I don't miss the theater of clicks and pops, or the rumble of a cheap turntable that I chased away with a succession of increasingly expensive turntables, though oddly, some of the ticks and scritches and skips hard-coded into my vinyl by excessive use and mistreatment live on in all the mixtapes I made, which I now listen to as digital files. It took me years to realize that the st-t-st-tuttery skip-pip-pipish quality of "City," from my beloved copy of The Bedroom Album were artifacts of a cheap pressing that made the album remix itself until I ended up with a B&O turntable that somehow soothed those shallow grooves.

Some of my albums remixed themselves through wear, becoming more and more personal, a thing that only happened once in the digital age, when a bit of peanut butter on a Devo CD created the most glorious accidental reconsideration of "Jocko Homo" imaginable, turning herky-jerky into celestial deconstruction.

Other records, like the holy relic of a rare import version of Czukay's life-changing (at least for me) Full Circle, warranted a reverence like a saint's toe bone. Clean the needle, adjust the turntable speed with the strobe disc, carefully clean the rubber mat, give the record a through clean with the Discwasher II before settling the needle ever so gentle into the open groove for "Full Circle." Play it through, just once a day, to avoid stressing the vinyl, then return the record to the special inner sleeve, slip it into the cover, slip the whole record into a heavy plastic case, and store in the box of things I'd grab if the house went up in flames.

These days, I travel with so many mp3 players that it's just ridiculous. On a trip, I've got an iPod Shuffle for the car (safest possible car player), a second generation iPod Nano for radio drama and long form music and sound, an iPod Touch 2G for overnight music and an iPod Touch 4G for essentials and small-scale music-making, with an iPad for music and everything else. It's silly, but everything excluding the iPad still weighs less than my first Walkman and can hold four times as much music as I owned until the late nineties in high-bitrate formats. There are no clicks, pops, or weird tape printing noises or capstan disasters. I never pull a CD out of a flaming hot dashboard to find that it's been baked into a warp—I installed a stereo with a USB slot so I can keep 64 gigs of music in the truck at all times.

When I was younger, I dreamed of instant, random access, because I am repetitive and when I love a song, I want to hear it over and over and over and over and over because it gives me that perfect high and the high gets higher every time, especially when it's loud enough that the sheer mass of music jams the interpretive part of my brain and I just sort of disappear into the sound. There were astonishing eighties inventions, like wall-mounted vertical turntables that could recognize the gaps between songs on an LP and skip from song to song, and cassette decks that skimmed from gap to gap, and even some that could automatically repeat a song ad infinitum, or at least until you wrecked the source media.

That was my grail, and CD brought it, and then minidisc brought it, and then mp3 brought it, and it is a druglike thing, being able to retrace one's steps to the start of a good thing until it saturates the blood...except—

Inconvenience is a worthwhile teacher. These days, I fall in love with songs and pieces. Back in the day, I fell in love with albums and complete units of conception. You could borrow a record and listen through, and hopping around piecemeal was so fussy and annoying that you, or at least I, would just let it play, and songs whose subtle delights were less immediately obvious would sort of simmer and develop and suddenly bloom in your head into something gorgeous and perfect. I listened to The Dreaming at first because of the incendiary anthem of "Get Out of My House," but listening to it over time, I started to hear more.

Houdini? A song about Houdini? What's the point of that?

You just sort of indulge the quiet ones, the nonspectacular events, and the small voices, but they get in, and soon enough, you love them, too.

I wait at the table,
And hold hands with weeping strangers,
Wait for you
To join the group.

Sometimes, they start to stand out as your favorites. In the digital world, if you're attention-challenged and short on restraint, it's far too easy to skip skip skip through to the songs you like best and so you fall in love with songs, but the albums never take hold. That's not true for everyone, of course, and it's a little strange when you try to force old shortcomings on new media—when I digitize some of my vinyl, I don't bother separating it into discrete units, and just make a side A and a side B, or a sides A, B, C, D, or in the case of United States Live, sides A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, and J. It's hard to get back to that old way of drifting through, but I use the "remember position" parameter and try.

It's not that I don't relish this world of the future, but I wish I could have it all.
posted by sonascope at 10:12 AM on September 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


I love vinyl for the experience it creates. You basically *have* to listen to at least one side of an album. I find that, when listening to vinyl, I pay a lot more attention to the music. It becomes a fuller experience of the art than when I'm playing a CD or listening to my iPod. In those cases, music is usually pleasant background noise rather than audio art that I'm fully appreciating.

The problem is that I live in a pretty small house; I don't have a lot of room to store records, so I tend to buy digital music most of the time. Occasionally, I still buy CDs. I buy records only rarely, but it always feels special when I do.
posted by asnider at 10:12 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you zoom into a waveform on a viewer, you will see that digital has a stairsteppy look to it, at the sampling rate.

There is not a speaker in the world that can move at 44.1 thousand times per second at a stairstep -- even the speakers themselves smooth out the waveform because they physically MOVE from one point to another in space.
posted by chimaera at 10:14 AM on September 12, 2012


I collect and listen to music on vinyl, but I'm not an audiophile by any means. I don't often try to quantify what I like about listening to records, because I'm not looking to convert anyone and I don't get the need for a justification beyond the ritual and romance. Isn't a satisfying ritual reason enough? I do agree there are many situations where digital is the clear winner, practically speaking. Again, not speaking to (and don't care about) arguments over objective quality. Music on AM radio still contains all its inherent goodness, no matter what the fidelity.

I think the insufferable opinions of audophiles are in large part responsible for the tone of these discussions about music formats. Arguments about the superior quality of digital are directed towards the worst sort of stereotypical record collector, who espouses the "higher dynamic range" of vinyl, who calls listening to music a "hobby", or whose tinfoil hattery involves strategically placing magic rocks in their listening room. Absent the apparent need of every record collector to feel superior about their format, who would care? I'm sure collectors of books on paper will soon join this illustrious order of luddites and fetishists, when the insufferable hipsters of 2050 start asking each other "Yeah, but do you have it on paper?"

Also, as many have mentioned already, vinyl is not expensive. If your tastes tend towards newly released indie rock, then yes. Many of my best records cost under $5, for example Neil Young's much maligned Time Fades Away -- not available on CD.

(Yes, you could pirate a lossless vinyl rip in less time than it takes to walk to the record store, fine, shut up!)
posted by Lorin at 10:24 AM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


My former complication used to . . .

Have you tried Sanka, Bob?
 
posted by Herodios at 10:27 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's worth remembering that the heights of audiophelia in the 50s through the 70s involved reel-to-reel tape because vinyl reproduction was so problematic.

Yeah, this was my parents. I think sometimes my interest in having my music easily available goes back to watching my dad hassle with his stereo. Or maybe changing music formats 3 or 4 times since I was in high school.

I don't "do things" when I listen to music because what I am doing is listening to music.

And that is a fine activity, but as someone who likes a little low background music, even if it's only functioning as white noise, I really love not having to get up every 20-30-45 minutes to change the record or flip the tape or whatever. The big difference for me is that I can lie on the couch and listen to a full record's worth of MP3s and do nothing else, where a person listening to vinyl will never be able to stay in the zone for more than 25-ish minutes. And I don't miss the world where I didn't have the choice, not one bit.
posted by immlass at 10:34 AM on September 12, 2012


Playing a record is a special occasion.

I rarely listen to vinyl these days, even though I hooked a turntable a few years ago. But when I was younger listening to a record was like watching a movie. I didn’t do it while doing something else, that was what I was doing, reading the liner notes and checking out the artwork. I did make cassettes to play in the car, but after I had already listened to and knew the music.

Can’t people just prefer vinyl, or real books, for whatever reason they want without being called names?
posted by bongo_x at 10:34 AM on September 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


The more you have invested in your system, the more confirmation bias tells you it sounds better.

It has been 10 years since I circulated among audiophiles to any extent. Back then, the consensus among sensible audiophiles seemed to be that the best CDs and the best vinyl were equal but different. However, they believed you needed to spend 10x as much to get proper CD playback relative to vinyl playback. Kind of the opposite of your cynicism :)

I don't know what the state of the art (or the state of the budget minded) in digital playback is any more. Surely it has advanced on vinyl quite a bit though...

The one thing everybody agrees on, I think: for any moderately reasonable format, the production process is far more important.
posted by Chuckles at 10:38 AM on September 12, 2012


I've always found something comforting with the fact that in any post-apocalyptic world, my record collection will still be usable with a hand cranked turntable and pine needles.

On the flip side (no pun intended), I had no idea, until age 18, that Freddie Mercury yelled "Let's Go!" at the start of Another One Bites the Dust, because my dad's LP skipped over that part.
posted by hwyengr at 10:38 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Obligatory (in case nobody linked it yet).
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:41 AM on September 12, 2012


Now playing on the turntable at a rather bracing volume, The Who's Quadrophenia. On CD this has been subjected to really horrendous remasters by Pete's brother-in-law but this vinyl copy outdates that nonsense. And though Entwistle might complain, he really wasn't buried in the mix.
posted by Ber at 11:39 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


If the Voyager probe were sent today, would the sounds of Earth be sent on a gold CD?

I always imagine the aliens thinking, "You sent this vessel across millions of light-years and your playback mechanism is dragging something pointy through a long hole?"


Well, ignoring (or should I say modulo?) the astronomical (!) odds against the Voyager probe ever being intercepted by any kind of intelligence, I think they'd have a much higher chance of decoding an analog signal than a digital one. The groove on a record (in addition to being visible without a microscope) is a direct representation of the original analog signal. CD encoding requires a lot of technical information to decode - it's not at all obvious. Are you going to send a copy of the Red Book along on the space probe and hope the aliens are able to read it?
posted by crazy_yeti at 11:44 AM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I like records for lots of reasons, and I like my iPod for lots of reasons. To me, saying that I shouldn't listen to records now that digital music exists is like saying I shouldn't look at paintings anymore because photography exists. Lots of media formats can coexist, there's no need to be exclusionary.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 1:28 PM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Many of my best records cost under $5, for example Neil Young's much maligned Time Fades Away -- not available on CD.

Digitally recorded, ironically enough.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:29 PM on September 12, 2012


There's just something about the simple physicality of vinyl. This wiggle wiggles that, which wiggles those, which wiggles that, which wiggles those. Beauty!

It does kind of sound not-so-great, though. I love the occasional pop and crackle, but sometimes I just want to hear the music. Hell, it's not even a consistent fidelity from the outside of a record to the inside of the same record. The sound is good enough, but anyone who says it's superior to CD is just completely bonkers.

Story time!

Ten to fifteen years ago, I bought a new, sealed copy of the Caroline gatefold marble-red double-LP pressing of Siamese Dream to replace my very well-worn cassette.

Get it home, open it up. On one record, Side 3 and Side 4; on the other, Side 3 and Side 4. Twins! Way to go, record-putter-inner.

In the end, I guess I found it more hilarious than annoying, because I still have it. I never really much liked "Today" anyhow.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:32 PM on September 12, 2012


When I was growing up there was a great technological quest to achieve better and better sound. Everyone I knew wanted to get the great stereo set-up with the best amps, speakers etc. There was little else to spend your technology budget upon, unless you were into fancy cameras or something. These days there are so many more ways to indulge your technology jones - computers, phones, hi-def tv etc. Not very many people devote much money to a good high definition dedicated audio system (as opposed to a home theater sound system). If you have one, you can hear incredible detail in recorded music. It is amazing and fun. CDs offered such promise at their introduction and yet those early efforts were often awful. Today, the choice between the two based solely on sonics is much harder, but you are comparing apples and oranges. CDs have better dynamic range (although that is not often ever used in non-symphoney recordings), and a lower noise floor, while vinyl seems more natural in the higher registers. Higher definition digital such as SACD really shines but is essentially not available. Why? I think it all comes down to not very many people having a decent sound system. Your iPod, car, boom box or home theater just don't cut it. So you might as well go with the most convenient source, and while a CD beats the bejeezus out of vinyl for convenience, the iPod/iPhone bests them both handily. So, argue all you want about which is better, the CD or the vinyl record, but the argument is lost on the vast majority of consumers who either lack a good sound system, or have one and don't use it because other sources are more convenient.
posted by caddis at 1:51 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Digitally recorded, ironically enough.

Heh, actually that explains a lot. I've heard Ry Cooder's "Bop till You Drop" cited as the first digital recording so many times, I should have known it was a bit more nuanced than that. I still don't understand how he can call it his worst record when Trans exists.
posted by Lorin at 2:02 PM on September 12, 2012


I love vinyl, but I've gotten used to not paying more than two bucks a record (at thrift stores and garage sales). I know most people don't have the time to go crate digging, but if you do you can find a lot of good stuff.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:49 PM on September 12, 2012


My opinion on the matter is that I try to listen to music on the medium for which it was originally intended because the mix will be (often) designed for that.

70s rock or jazz? Find the vinyl. 90s rock or pop? CD. 10s tumblr rap? Computer. This seems to work.
posted by solarion at 2:50 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Lots of media formats can coexist, there's no need to be exclusionary.

This, right here. I listen to vinyl when I'm sitting in my living room reading a book, CDs when I'm in my kitchen washing the dishes and an iPod when I'm out of the house. It's win-win-win!
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:54 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Flagged as fantastic.


Higher definition digital such as SACD really shines but is essentially not available. Why?

Because there's no reason to use anything more than CD quality if all one wants to do is listen to the music.
posted by Bangaioh at 3:14 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Other records, like the holy relic of a rare import version of Czukay's life-changing (at least for me) Full Circle, warranted a reverence like a saint's toe bone.

Further to my previous comment -- this is one of those albums I picked up relatively cheap (less than $10, I'm sure) as everybody was dumping their vinyl for CDs. And I gotta say, it's everything sonascope says it is. A recognized world-smashing classic and kajillion seller in a better universe. But I always thought of it as a Jah Wobble album, with special guests Holger Czukay and Jaki Leibezeit. In fact, I seem to remember Mr. Wobble telling the story. Back in his drug-addled days, he somehow managed to get the record company cash together to lure his two biggest heroes to London for some recording, then proceeded to not pay them, snorted or injected it all.

And yet everyone involved is still alive and well fed and we have stuff like Mystery to remind us of good and pure music can be.
posted by philip-random at 4:50 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Digitally recorded, ironically enough.

I don't really think that the recording media for Time Fades Away is actual digital audio. I think that the "Quad-8 CompuFuck" is a fancy computerized mixing desk somewhat like the much cuter late 70's "Neve Necam"... and of course, the first artist to be fully recorded digitally was Enrico Caruso remastered (or the Santa Fe symphony).
posted by ovvl at 5:41 PM on September 12, 2012


It's entirely possible, given the structure of the ear, and the human hearing system, that people can detect signal frequencies above 20 Kilohertz.

recorded with what? shure 57s? (Frequency response: 40 to 15,000 Hz)

neumann u47s? - up to 15k

there are microphones that can go up to 20k - but the point is that if you can't record above 20k - or 15k - anything you hear or feel above that line is not a part of the voice or musical instrument being recorded, but an artifact of the recording and playback equipment being used - and it could be a more pleasant artifact than the infamous digital aliasing - but it's still an artifact

also, my vinyl album of it's a beautiful day's white bird does in fact have an organ on it - listening to the remaster on youtube, i think they put it up a bit, but it is in the original mix
posted by pyramid termite at 5:43 PM on September 12, 2012


undoubtedly a handful of people have "super" hearing. But again, this has actually been tested thousands upon thousands of times - 20kHz is a practical limit for 99% of humanity.

I don't know what you mean by "practical limit" and could you cite a reference for that figure of 99%? Regardless, even if just 1% can hear over 20kHz maybe those are the people who become audiophiles. My speculation was that there could be an effect from components above 20kHz even if the effect can't be "heard" in a traditional sense, and this kind of effect would be lost going through the low-pass filter. When we test people for hearing range we keep raising the frequency until they say they can't hear anything, but that doesn't mean there aren't other effects. It's just speculation though, because I don't know how we could test that.


not only are vinyl records physically incapable of producing these "extra-audible" frequencies,...

This page of myths about vinyl vs. CD doesn't agree with you, saying the recording/tracking ability of vinyl is easily at least 50 kHz and perhaps as high as 100 kHz. I have no data on this myself.


And there's no argument over whether humans can possibly sense sub-sonic frequencies - the debate is whether it's necessary to take this into account when recording or reproducing music. Especially since the instruments themselves do not produce these sub-or-supra frequencies. See here.

You're assuming that recording technology can only be used for traditional instruments. There are natural sounds and synthetic sounds that are sub- or supra-. Why not allow them to be played back?
My whole idea of music written for dogs - music that dogs could hear but people could not - was completely destroyed by the prevalence of digital sampling.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:23 PM on September 12, 2012


Bangaioh: Because there's no reason to use anything more than CD quality if all one wants to do is listen to the music.

Right. 16-bit, 44.1KHz, for all practical purposes, is perfect. There is no reason for anything more, ever, for simple music playback. It's one of those engineering efforts where they did it so well that it can never really be improved on.

24-bit, however, is useful during mixing; tiny errors accumulate as you mix tracks digitally, and if you do that work with 24-bit resolution, the errors end up being tiny, even if you're layering in dozens or hundreds of tracks. They disappear completely when the track is remastered to 16-bit for consumer devices... the least significant bits, where the errors are, end up thrown away.

The only real improvement to be had in digital sound would be more channels. Stereo is a solved problem. It is done. It can't really be done better. But more channels might be nice.
posted by Malor at 7:30 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Couldn't you just make "10" louder?
posted by wenestvedt at 7:37 PM on September 12, 2012


If you zoom into a waveform on a viewer, you will see that digital has a stairsteppy look to it, at the sampling rate.

No, it doesn't. DAC outputs are filtered. What comes out is pure, smooth analog signal.
posted by rocket88 at 7:41 PM on September 12, 2012


To vinyl lovers and haters alike, there is no sonic experience quite like listening to Steely Dan's " Aja " REMASTERED 180 Gram vinyl. OMG.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 7:45 PM on September 12, 2012


Digital Audio is technically perfect, but it hasn't really surrendered to the mythology of the seductive analog curve. Vinyl does have less dynamic range than digital, and less "annoying useless high-end information" in the smoothed-out high range, which is a good thing. Vinyl also has what some describe as "the elusive warmth", that seductive smoothed-out lower-middle curve.

Vinyl can be theoretically perfect, but I listen to scratchy old worn-out discs on a little portable Sea-Breeze, and I still enjoy them as long as they don't skip too much. The scratches add emotional value.
posted by ovvl at 8:11 PM on September 12, 2012


Recently we dragged out the mechanical wind-up suitcase Victrolia and spun some random 78's from the box.
Our guests said: "Wow, that thing is LOUD."

(I am a bit worried that the spring speed is starting to get wonky).
posted by ovvl at 8:18 PM on September 12, 2012


To vinyl lovers and haters alike, there is no sonic experience quite like listening to Steely Dan's " Aja " REMASTERED 180 Gram vinyl. OMG.

I'm a vinyl can't-be-arsed-er, but I'd lie on the sofa and do nothing but listen to that for the full duration of the album. (Aja was one of the first three albums I owned on vinyl. Thank you, nameless record store clerk, for telling my parents that it was the good stuff, and probably selling them on the song based on the Odyssey, and convincing them to buy it for me with my "record player".)
posted by immlass at 8:35 PM on September 12, 2012


One thing that hasn't been mentioned is that on rare occasion, a classic vinyl re-release gets an amazing new mastering job. The Steve Hoffman/Kevin Gray Rumours 45rpm 180g album from a couple of years ago is simply fantastic.

Would a CD be able to replicate the dynamics of the remaster? Sure. But nobody would buy enough of the CDs to make it worthwhile for the record company.
posted by hwyengr at 9:48 PM on September 12, 2012


Couldn't you just make "10" louder?






. . . . These go to eleven. . . . .
posted by soundguy99 at 10:46 PM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Digital Audio is technically perfect

That is funny. There is no such audio as technically perfect. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, but a live performance really is best, and then if that is amplified .....
posted by caddis at 3:37 AM on September 13, 2012


So early CD players had less-than-optimal error correction and anti-aliasing & DACs, and mastering engineers & pressing plants were still working off their old standards of audio quality (based on limited reproduction systems like vinyl and cassette) and the end result was that early CD's & CD players often sounded bad.

I know of at least two early CDs that has the RIAA EQ curve for vinyl applied during the mastering process.

Because of vinyl's limitations, recordings were cut to vinyl with a large EQ curve applied. This pulled back the low frequencies and boosted the highs. One of the reasons your stereo had a separate phono input is that this input had a filter that reversed that EQ boost.

To say this filter sounds bad on a CD connected via line level jacks is an understatement. This is also why you need either a preamp or a modern turntable with line, not phone, outputs. (The other is electrical - phono was both lower voltage and a much different impedance than line.)
posted by eriko at 4:12 AM on September 13, 2012


One thing that hasn't been mentioned is that on rare occasion, a classic vinyl re-release gets an amazing new mastering job. The Steve Hoffman/Kevin Gray Rumours 45rpm 180g album from a couple of years ago is simply fantastic.

Would a CD be able to replicate the dynamics of the remaster? Sure. But nobody would buy enough of the CDs to make it worthwhile for the record company.


How do you think a remaster gets done? Digitally.
posted by empath at 7:12 AM on September 13, 2012


Yep. That's why he said that a CD would be able to replicate the dynamics of the remaster.
posted by koeselitz at 7:31 AM on September 13, 2012


How do you think a remaster gets done? Digitally.

What does that have to do with it? The point is made that sometimes vinyl provides the motivation to justify the expense of the remaster that pure CD sales probably could not justify. That can be a good thing (although I am always suspicious of remasters as they often add tons of compression to make the music louder which balances out the cleaner sound elsewhere). Is your point that digital remastering is the same as digital CD and thus you question the value of vinyl sound? Remastering uses a much higher resolution digital process that avoids most of the problems with the more limited redbook format. Redbook was the best compromise given the space limitations of the CD media at the time, but it falls far short of the digital sound available for studio remastering.
posted by caddis at 7:36 AM on September 13, 2012


Digital Audio is technically perfect

That is funny. There is no such audio as technically perfect. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, but a live performance really is best, and then if that is amplified .....


Yes, a live performance is best. The dynamic range of music as normally perceived in a concert hall is about 80dB. CD audio is capable of 96dB. A well-maintained vinyl record on a good turntable is about the same. So, in the end both media are "perfect" for practical purposes, and this all comes down to non-technical preferences like cost, convenience, and nostalgia.
posted by rocket88 at 8:09 AM on September 13, 2012


So dynamic range is the only thing that matters? That is even funnier.
posted by caddis at 8:34 AM on September 13, 2012


although I am always suspicious of remasters as they often add tons of compression to make the music louder which balances out the cleaner sound elsewhere

Not this one. I made a digital rip and ran it through this dynamic range meter. It's no victim of the loudness war.
posted by hwyengr at 4:23 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know what you mean by "practical limit"

By "practical limit", I mean that if the vast vast vast majority of humans can hear 20kHz at best, I can't see any practical reason to redesign and re-engineer and rebuild the ENTIRE technological structure and ALL the equipment used to record, store, & reproduce sound, soup to nuts, top to bottom, mics to speakers, for the benefit of the tiny tiny tiny percentage of humans who might be able to hear above that.

and could you cite a reference for that figure of 99%?

Oh, come on, now - don't be obtuse. Obviously "99%" is simply another way of saying "vast vast vast majority."

there could be an effect from components above 20kHz even if the effect can't be "heard" in a traditional sense

WHAT effect ? No, seriously, what will this effect do? How does it work? How do you think having signal above 20kHz will affect our perception of what we're listening to below 20 kHz? There's no way to test for something if you can't even describe what you're testing for.

but that doesn't mean there aren't other effects.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Just as if you claimed that there are aliens living in a secret base under the North Pole, it's on you to prove that it's true, that these "effects" exist, not on the rest of the world to prove that it isn't true.

This page of myths about vinyl vs. CD doesn't agree with you, saying the recording/tracking ability of vinyl is easily at least 50 kHz and perhaps as high as 100 kHz.

Well. Upon further research, I stand corrected about the technical ability of record lathes to cut grooves and a stylus to follow grooves at supra-sonic frequencies, at least under certain conditions.

As proof for this statement, the writer cites the existence of the CD-4 Quadraphonic system developed by JVC. I went looking for more info about this system and found a fairly complete explanation (apparently copied from an old issue of the UK magazine "Gramophone") at Quadraphonic Sound. The explanation of CD-4 starts about a third of the way down the page.

The basic concept of CD-4 involved adding a "carrier wave" at supra-sonic frequencies (20k to 45k is mentioned) that could be detected by a special turntable stylus and interpreted by a demodulator to then send certain signals to the left and right rear speakers. So, obviously, this happened, and these specially-cut records and demodulators were produced and sold.

But. The JVC engineers clearly chose to produce quad records via a supra-sonic frequency system because ordinary styluses wouldn't detect the 30k carrier wave, home stereo systems couldn't reproduce the signal as audio, and humans couldn't hear it anyway. Plus, in order to add this ultrasonic carrier wave, the master pressing had to be cut extra-slowly, and the minutes of music per side had to be reduced.

So all in all, such a special case that it's almost totally irrelevant to your hypothesis that vinyl records in general had something "special" in the ultrasonic frequencies that affected audible frequencies, and that has been eliminated by digital sampling.

You're assuming that recording technology can only be used for traditional instruments.

No, I'm pointing out that traditional instruments were created, invented, designed, and refined to produce sounds in the range audible to humans, and since the entire point of all of this technology - wax cylinders, magnetic tape, vinyl records, CD's, yada yada yada - is to more and more accurately capture, store, and reproduce the music made by these instruments, it only makes sense that the creators and designers and engineers of this technology would concentrate their efforts on the frequency range audible to humans.

There are natural sounds and synthetic sounds that are sub- or supra-. Why not allow them to be played back?

Because we can't hear them. Why bother? What's your point?

My whole idea of music written for dogs - music that dogs could hear but people could not

OK, now you're just pulling my leg.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:14 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Isn't a satisfying ritual reason enough?

That's actually the most compelling reason to me to own vinyl—because the act of purchasing and playing vinyl is such a ritual. It's just not a ritual I ever grew up with, nor a ritual that really fits for me.

When I think about fond memories of listening to music, I remember lying on my back on the office chairs in the study, listening to Smashing Pumpkins CDs in the CD changer on gloomy Saturday afternoons. I think of trying to find every single Cocteau Twins MP3 in existence from ratio FTP sites. I think of designing my own Winamp skin based on the old Akai stereo equipment my dad owned. I'm glad that other people now have the same memories about putting on a good record, and maybe one day that'll be me too. But right now, it's too expensive and too awkward for me, and I guess I don't like feeling like a second-class citizen at all the record stores I used to love that are now phasing out CDs. And I mean that literally—every time I walk into Rotate This in Toronto, the CD section gets smaller and smaller. It kills me.
posted by chrominance at 7:06 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


there could be an effect from components above 20kHz even if the effect can't be "heard" in a traditional sense

WHAT effect ? No, seriously, what will this effect do? How does it work? How do you think having signal above 20kHz will affect our perception of what we're listening to below 20 kHz? There's no way to test for something if you can't even describe what you're testing for.


Science practiced in a tunnel often misses reality. The whole notion of audible frequencies relies on a person sitting in a quiet room listening to consciously perceive tones played at ever higher frequencies. Perhaps though, the world of sound frequencies and human perception is broader than that. For instance, it seems people can hear with their skin. Also, frequencies above 20kHz produce brain activity.
posted by caddis at 8:12 AM on September 14, 2012


I don’t care about the extreme high and low frequencies, they’re annoying, I filter them out well before the limits of the media. Many people do. There are no missing sounds on your CD because the musicians and engineers who made them didn’t want those frequencies in there.
posted by bongo_x at 10:53 AM on September 14, 2012


as I understand it (and I'm an artist, dammit, not a scientist), digital processing means that there are defined and verifiable limits in place (ie: pre-sets), whereas analog means that you're dealing with something more akin to grey areas. They're still pre-sets but they're just not as precise.

Can the human ear hear the difference?

All I know is that my analog sonic experiences are more subtly chaotic than my digital ones. That is, needle (no doubt imperfect) touches vinyl (no doubt imperfect), creates friction (no doubt impossible to measure with absolute accuracy) which creates a signal which passes downs various wires, processors etc (including a few manual EQ settings), connects with speaker mechanisms, pumps out into the environment.

So when I put on Neil Young's Tonight's the Night (which I just did), what I get is a combination of what the original artists, engineers etc intended and whatever vagaries my imperfect analog gear has imposed. True, when I put on a CD or a straight digital file, it still goes through those wires, those EQ settings, those speaker mechanisms (none of which are perfect) but it is absent that initial subtle chaos, and yeah, I'm pretty damned sure I can hear it.

Also worth noting, much of what I listen to are mp3s which I've digitized myself from the original vinyl. That is, they also have that initial subtle chaos in them (in perpetuity), via the moment at which I recorded them.

And again, I can hear the nuance.
posted by philip-random at 10:41 AM on September 15, 2012


That last What is a Vinyl Record? link, dated 2010, seems already anachronistic:
In the professional DJ market, vinyl is king. Singles and remixes are still released on vinyl to support this die-hard group of audio enthusiasts. A few DJs are going all-digital, but they risk being disrespected in their field. In a similar way, professional photographers and movie directors refuse to use digital cameras. With the exception of the latest Star Wars movie "Revenge of the Sith" which was the first major production to be digitally filmed in it's entirety, every major movie in history has used analog film.
My impression -- admittedly non-expert -- was that all 3 of those fields have moved significantly towards digital.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:15 PM on September 15, 2012


philip random: So when I put on Neil Young's Tonight's the Night (which I just did), what I get is a combination of what the original artists, engineers etc intended and whatever vagaries my imperfect analog gear has imposed.

A very belated response -- in that case, you are listening to your gear, not the music. If that's what floats your boat, then do that, but I have no interest in listening to your gear. Or mine, for that matter. I'd just like to hear the original music as closely as reasonably possible, given all the limitations in reproducing a sound field with two analog point sources.... which aren't, of course, actually points.

Of course, that may be silly anyway, since in most cases, the sound never really existed at all as a coherent whole -- the various tracks were usually recorded individually, so 'stereo placement' is purely arbitrary, not related to where the musicians were actually standing. (they might not have even been in the same room, or even recording at the same time!)

Modern albums are almost entirely fictional experiences, so I'm wanting a "perfect reproduction" of fiction, which is just silly, and you want some analog hiss and grain with your fiction, which is a different flavor of silliness. Neither of our chosen methods makes much sense, in the absolute scheme of things.
posted by Malor at 6:54 AM on September 18, 2012


Even on the earliest pre-electric recordings, musicians were positioned in such a way that a pleasing mix was created (the louder ones further away from, or soloists closer to the microphone). Any representation is the product of a series of framing choices. So, authenticity is one fiction among a range of fictions.

On the other hand, it's entirely possible to enjoy a particular fiction which we can label "authentic" - for example a string quartet or an ethnomusicological field recording or Kind of Blue or The Campfire Tapes, where even though framing decisions have been made, the disipline involved in the framing can accentuate details which a more fluid or consciously artificial strategy can work to hide.

And there are other strategies - although Steely Dan's recordings of the seventies have a reputation for being minutely engineered, they apparantly employed quite a relaxed recording method (rehearsing basic tracks in the morning and recording them in the afternoon. Overdubbing could take months, though); or Eno's solo recordings such as Warm Jets or Tiger Mountain- he gathered a diverse number of takes separately and independently but committed himself to keeping all the takes in the final mix.

In a way, all these methodologies are authentic, because they are consistent with a conscious strategy of production.
posted by Grangousier at 9:25 AM on September 18, 2012


Modern albums are almost entirely fictional experiences, so I'm wanting a "perfect reproduction" of fiction, which is just silly, and you want some analog hiss and grain with your fiction, which is a different flavor of silliness. Neither of our chosen methods makes much sense, in the absolute scheme of things.

Any album is fiction. It was recorded in a specific room, or rooms, listening through a specific chain of gear, amps, speakers, etc. Listening in that room is the only place your going to hear the "real" thing. Except it was probably mixed in another room with a totally different gear collection and different choices were made to change the sound at that time. And then it was mastered.

It’s like watching The Matrix or Lawrence of Arabia and saying "I want it to be as realistic as possible, like I’m there". There is no "there". You can feel like you’re there though through the telling of the fiction.
posted by bongo_x at 9:28 AM on September 18, 2012



It’s like watching The Matrix or Lawrence of Arabia and saying "I want it to be as realistic as possible, like I’m there". There is no "there".


Except that with a recording of a specific musical performance, you can do it such a way that nothing is added, nothing is omitted. That is, the right microphones in the right positions can come very close to capturing exactly what that room sounded like when that music was playing. As I had it explained to me a few years back by a jazz aficionado, this is the biggest thing that we lost when it comes to recording between say 1962 and 1972 (certainly by 82). It was no longer about figuring out the best way to capture the room, but to go past that, be more perfect than just the room, spend four days just getting the bass drum right ... and so on. It led some amazing stuff, but man did a lot of baby get tossed with the bathwater. And nowadays (back quoting my jazz friend) we don't even have the knowledge anymore of how to do those full room recordings. There has been regression.
posted by philip-random at 2:43 PM on September 18, 2012


And nowadays (back quoting my jazz friend) we don't even have the knowledge anymore of how to do those full room recordings.

I think that’s all a little overstated, romanticized, and not quite accurate. You can film a play on stage so that it’s very much like being in the audience, but not many people want to, or want to watch it.

I don’t think recordings were ever really done purely that way, and people still know how to do it as much as they ever did. It’s all about
perspective. People bring a lot more romantic imagination to recording than they do film, when they’re really the same. I don’t hear Kind of Blue and think "an amazing job of capturing the room". It thoroughly sounds like a recording, an amazing one. For years after Nirvana came out young bands would say "we want that raw, live sound, like Nevermind" and producers and engineers would try not to laugh. But to them that was the feeling it invoked, even if that had nothing to do with the reality of the sound.
posted by bongo_x at 5:16 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


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